Bladder cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the bladder become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the bladder and move to other parts of the body. About 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year. The condition is more common in men, who are four times more likely to have bladder cancer than women.

While the precise causes of this disease remain unknown, most cases of bladder cancer appear to be caused by exposure to harmful substances that lead to abnormal changes in the bladder’s cells over the course of many years.

Symptoms of bladder cancer

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your urine, which is usually painless. Other symptoms include:

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • A sudden urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when passing urine
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bone pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Leg swelling

Some people find it embarrassing to talk about these sorts of symptoms, but if you have ever seen blood in your urine, even if it was only once, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

Your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms.

Once diagnosed, bladder cancer can be classified by how far it has spread. There are two different categories of bladder cancer: Superficial or non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, where the cancerous cells are contained inside the lining of the bladder, or muscle-invasive bladder cancer – where the cancerous cells have spread beyond the lining of the bladder to the muscles.

Superficial bladder cancer is the more common type, accounting for 70% of cases.

Identifying the specific type and stage of bladder cancer is important and will help your treatment team to create the best plan of action for your individual needs and circumstances.

Treatment of bladder cancer

At CCL, patients with bladder cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Treatments for bladder cancer vary depending on the type and severity of the case. Options include:

  • Surgery, which could involve:
    • Removal of the cancerous cells, leaving the bladder intact
    • Removal of the bladder (a radical cystectomy) and subsequent reconstruction of the bladder
  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas.